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Two, four, six, eight, let’s hope they don’t emigrate

High unemployment and competition for social services between locals and immigrants has fuelled the rise of xenophobic politicians in Catalonia and elsewhere in recent months. But, despite the populist fear-mongering, immigrants remain a boon, not a burden, to Spain's economy.


In light of the worrying rise of the xenophobic Plataforma per Catalunya in the recent local elections, and the dabbling in similarly anti-immigrant rhetoric by some Popular Party (PP) candidates in the same region and elsewhere, it is useful to read some hard facts about the impact from the strong pulse of migration to Spain in the first decade of this century.

The report Inmigración y Estado de bienestar en España (Immigration and the welfare state in Spain), which can be found here,was published last month by La Caixa’s social foundation, and busily sets about laying to rest a whole series of misconceptions about the impact of immigration on the economy while highlighting a growing tendency in crisis-hit Spain toward a rejection of the presence of foreigners.

Josep Anglada

Plataforma per Catalunya leader Josep Anglada did well in local elections on the back of xenophobic rhetoric. Photo: Efe

Meanwhile, on the Plataforma per Catalunya website, one can read a copy of a letter by the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen congratulating party leader Josep Anglada for the May 22 results in which it received over 65,000 votes across Catalonia, returning 67 councillors, 50 more than in the previous elections. It is now a player in Catalan local politics and the majority Catalan nationalist CiU bloc is already demonstrating its willingness to discuss power-broking agreements behind closed doors with xenophobes they have criticized on public platforms.

PP leader Rajoy, while nothing if not cautious, has voiced support in previous election campaigns for a “contract for integration” in what is clearly a rhetorical nod toward the xenophobic voter as such a text could include little in terms of civic responsibilities which are not already enshrined in Spanish laws. In the same way that conservatives in other European countries have responded to the rise of the far right by toughening their discourse on immigration, the PP will inevitably keep an eye on such developments in Spain. To the question “why isn’t there an extreme right-wing party in Spain with electoral clout,” the analyst Josep Ramoneda has a clear answer: “There is; it’s the PP.”

The report by Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes and María Bruquetas Callejo notes how between the years 2004 and 2008 (before the economy stalled completely) the number of people who thought Spain’s immigration policies were too lax rose from 24 percent to 42 percent. Exactly half the population believes that the presence of immigrants lowers the quality of social services, specifically health and education, and it is widely believed that they put a disproportionate strain on providers of welfare. Among the facts highlighted by the report’s authors, however, is that immigrants’ use of the health service amounts to just five percent of the system’s total resources, which is interesting when you consider that just over 12 percent of the Spanish population has moved to the country from abroad.

The immigrant collective in Spain is still a relatively youthful one, accounting for only one percent of those who receive a state pension. The report claims that the impact of immigrant workers through taxes and social security contributions accounted for 50 percent of the surplus in public finances in the boom years, while the newcomers have now been the hardest hit by the crisis: 30 percent are out of work compared to 18 percent among native Spaniards of working age. As is the case among native Spaniards, many immigrants work in the informal economy, which some estimates suggest could account for around 20 percent of Spain’s GDP.

Among those foreign workers is the veritable army of careworkers and live-in domestic helps, who provide an affordable alternative for hundreds of thousands of households, propping up an incomplete welfare state while allowing huge numbers of parents of young children (and children of old parents) to join the workforce. Immigrants’ higher birthrates also serve to offset somewhat a gaping hole in the future prospects of Spain’s Social Security system.

It’s difficult to imagine Spain without its immigrant population, hard as some people want us to try to do just that.

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Published: Jun 10 2011
Category: Politics, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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